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What The Research Paper Is and What It is Not

  • By Jason Bacot
  • Published 01/26/2011
  • Writing

Maybe you wonder why your instructors emphasize research papers so much. After all, they usually account for around one-third of your course grade. Well, there are a few reasons teachers assign research papers. For one thing, it’s a way for you to show that you’ve learned something about a subject, that you can independently analyze it and communicate what you’ve learned. If you don’t test well, you can look at the research paper as a chance to redeem yourself and your grade to some extent. Teachers also assign research papers because they know that if you plan on any kind of professional job, you will need to have solid writing skills. Given the choice between two job candidates that are equally qualified in other ways, companies are going to choose the candidate with good writing skills. It’s that important. Other valuable skills you’ll develop when doing research papers include learning to sort through your various information resources, separating the good sources from the questionable, and learning to organize the concepts found there so you can write effectively about them. With internet access, the problem is not usually finding enough information, but being able to discern which sources are sound, and which are not.

Usually, instructors will give students around four weeks to complete a research paper. Ideally, your teacher will have intermittent assignments for which

you will receive grades that count for smaller parts of your overall grade. For example, they may require you to turn in an outline and a rough draft. If your teacher does this, then consider this an opportunity to make the corrections and changes necessary to get your paper in top form before you turn the final copy in. Many instructors today require you to turn in an electronic copy of your research paper so that he or she can check it for plagiarism. Don’t risk using someone else’s words. The tools for detecting plagiarism are constantly improving, and if you’re caught, the penalties will be severe. Wherever your research information comes from, you must rewrite it in your own words. Even if the result is less sophisticated than you want, it’s your own work, and this is extremely important to your instructor, and helps him or her help you to improve your writing. Your research paper is not supposed to be a simple rehash of what others have said about the topic. You have to use the information available to you to come independently to your own conclusion. Yes, your conclusion may agree with others, but the way you lay out your reasoning and logic must be original.

Also, your research paper is not supposed to be a forum for you to express your subjective opinion on the topic. This can be extremely hard if you’re new to research papers. You have to come to a conclusion, but you’re not allowed to pontificate. There’s a fine line, and writing research papers helps you learn where that line is.



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